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The SkypeIn Challenge

In the last few days the visibility of telephone "numbers" and their importance has been appearing in blogs. From personal experience and checking what VoIP services can offer this remains a huge barrier to change. Rich Terani writes about transferring his home number with Vonage (failed!) and I know that I couldn't get one in my area. Few ITSP can provide numbers for all regions, in fact in some countries they are now assigning unique area codes for VoIP numbers. In all these cases one big issue emerges.

As consumers we really don't like changing our number, maybe if we move, but even then I know people that have cellphones and still don't change their numbers. So what is the difference between Skype and and the more traditional VoIP offerings? First you can choose your "handle" (some exceptions still) and no one currently outside the Skype system can call you.

One of the issues facing VOIP providers is their inability to obtain ordinary telephone numbers. Telecommunications carriers must be state certified in order to obtain numbers (technically numbering resources). Mr Blog Entry - 09/10/2004: Battles over phone numbers brewing

Sell the integers off. Throw in # and * for good measure at no extra charge. Let someone manage each area code, each different string length. Use them to name your dog, count lamp posts, give them away as birthday presents. Anything, as long as the market price is reached. Not enough 9-digit codes left for everyone to have a phone? No problem, the serialized birthday card market is roaring. And the taxpayer makes a windfall from selling a non-exclusive right to zero (figuratively and literally). Telepocalypse: Maggie Thatcher's number's up?

It's true that massive adoption, such as Skype is now experiencing, has a way of trumping standards. It's also true that a viable voice-call alternative "that just works" is a necessary precursor to the new breed of voice-and-data applications that we need and want. But if cheaper calls aren't the endgame, and if it's the apps that ultimately matter most, then shouldn't the mechanisms for creating those apps be built in rather than bolted on? Jon Udell: VoIP interop: built-in or bolt-on?

Today an increasing number of consumers have softswitches in the home with VoIP services like Skype. But more people can use these services with the convenience of mobile phones that can leverge Wi-Fi, there is a need to phone home, or through home. This would let you route around last miles, captured locations and roaming long distances. Ross Mayfield's Weblog: Personal Softswitch


So my beliefs:

Skype needs a P2P interconnect solution to the traditional landline. That approach will cure two consumer issues with Skype. First consumers want to be able to use their cordless phones with it, despite the drop in audio quality. Then second they are scared. Scared to lose their access to 911, scared that the phone won't work in a power cut, scared to lose their number and be locked in to a new service. P2P is important as the consumer will invest in infastructure and that investment will also introduce the long promised premium services.

Reduce the barrier to adoption: The current barriers is not only your number tranfer but also the commitments for ATA boxes when one signs up. There are early cancellation fees if the product doesn't work. If you are lucky you can return the proprietary ATA box and get some money back. So there is a monetary threshold where risk and adoption become easy.

Easy access to the local free calling area. If you keep your landline for many countries the pricing structure means that local calls are free. Thus Skype's play will be long distance. The payoff for connecting to the landline is cost savings (prepaid long distance minutes), the retention of the customers current landline number and a likely

Realizing this is not as simple as it might sound. I've presumed that Siemens has been working on it for ages. Still one can work through the routings and see that Skype has a challenge to solve if they are to leverage and capture all my long-distance minutes. Plus we want it all in one device. I shouldn't have to buy an addional cordless phone plus a box (the ones I tried many months ago failed).

Ultimately consumers don't need numbers, and in fact many now seldom dial a number. Many cellphones are look up and click, and Skype is click to call. Numbers are antequated. Point n Click Search is probably the replacement. So numbers are transitory. They are part of an established power game. Companies like Vonage have played into their hands. Skype by contrast needs some smart handset vendors to help them out and get SkypeIn working.

With SkypeIn connected to landlines without telecom approval VoIP callers can have their cake and eat it too. That's a world in which Skype ends up trumping standards. It's also an area that mobile operators are watching. With new fast cellular networks coming onstream and Wi-Fi expanding Skype's potential for mobility increases. The options for pure play mobile operators are also interesting when one thinks about how to give your mobile phone an "extension". I'm the classic case of not using my cell when at home. I'd use it more and pay more if it could just replace my business Vonage line by linking my mobile to Skype.

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» Skype Two Million Reasons + from Skype Journal
Skype broke the 2 million active user concurrently online for the first time today. Concurrently I tracked call minutes off the Skype site. Just over 3 million minutes were recorded in an hour. Two numbers that encourage crude Skype maths. My conclusio... [Read More]

Comments (2)

SHubert1966:

Well this post is 6 months old and little has changed. And yes, Plantronics still sux. SkypeIn by winter out ain't gonna happen.

SO much for right-of-way and the public good.

The FCC regulates in Frequency and Amplitude. If Skype sold cordless phones and wireless PCI(PCIMCA) cards as kits - you'd see do-it-yourselfers flipping their finger at 75+ years of telecom tyranny.

Free, national wireless coverage - wherever 120v AC is available. Computer, software, peripheral, hand-held. Same range as a cordless phone and you're cooking with gas. The work is figuring out what areas are not covered and filling in those gaps in coverage to link them. Small investment and dark fiber is begging to fulfill this.

Congress and business do not want this to happen until every link in the chain is known and the correct vices can be applied to tax-up the system.

This rant free of charge.

monk:

I am using VOIP for all over 5 years by now, including IP to regular phone calls. Now I pay international calls at 2 cents per minute instead of 20 thru 40 cents of regular phone companies. They are stealing the world. The only thing that needs now is a box to allow regular phones to be plugged on voip thru a modem, that works with several companies, so the customer can choose which service to use: webphone, skype, callserve, etc...

The other tyrany award goes to the same telephone companies regarding to broadband prices. They charge too much for a bad service, in the majority of cases. In europe for example, we pay 40 euros/month (65 dollars) for a 512 or 1megabps connection. They are thieves, not businessman.

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